Innovation underpins New Zealand’s international development support. To encourage the next generation of New Zealand innovators to bring fresh ideas to development, the New Zealand Aid Programme sponsors an award as part of the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) for an enterprise that addresses a development issue.
YES is a New Zealand-wide 12 month experiential business programme for Year 12 and 13 students. Terry Shubkin, the Chief Executive of the Young Enterprise Trust (which administers YES), explains that this is not just a paper exercise for the students. “In groups, they set up a company, create real products or services, and make real profit or loss.” They must produce business plans and annual reports.
The winners of the New Zealand Aid Programme award in 2011 were from St Thomas of Canterbury College. They created the company Advanced Clean Energies (ACE) and their product, The Lion, converts the heat generated by cooking into energy that can then charge mobile phones and LED lights.
During a recent visit to Wellington with their enterprise teacher David Ivory, the ACE team met Prime Minister John Key, and presented 'the Lion' to the Wellington Rotary Club, which was very well-received.
A sense of social responsibility and "giving something back to the community" were motivators from the outset for the ACE team. They also wanted the device to use sustainable energy and be high quality but simple to make. The team had settled on their product before the New Zealand Aid Programme Award was announced, and were excited that their plan was already aligned with the award.
The Christchurch earthquake in September 2010 gave the team initial inspiration for the Lion. The more damaging earthquake in February 2011 cemented their ideas around the need and uses for their device. Team member Sean Feast explains: “Continuing aftershocks meant that people were anxious to check that everyone they knew were ok, but with no power to charge phones it became difficult to make contact. This added to people’s distress.” With parts of the city blacked out, light was also an obvious need.
The Lion is now being sold through Mitre10 Megastores in New Zealand. International distribution would be the ultimate mark of success for the ACE team - “We’d love to see it taken on by a manufacturer for global distribution at a low price, providing a sustainable solution for a development problem,” says Sam Mackwell.
The potential for this is real; the Lion offers a new source of energy that could be valuable in disaster response. A student-initiated connection with a school in Tanzania has allowed the Lion to be tested in a developing country context. Communicating via e-mail, the ACE team have received positive feedback from students there who are trialling a modified version of the Lion that uses solar power and can charge other devices such as laptops.
Terry Shubkin says many of the YES teams have an element of social responsibility to their enterprise. “About 40 percent of the teams donate the profits from their enterprise to not-for-profit organisations. It’s positive that this generation has this social awareness. We hope to encourage behaviour that will make for good future business people.”
The New Zealand Aid Programme Award encourages the teams to take this to the next level, where the product or service itself also focuses on giving something back to the global community.